Mirkwood's Blade - Chapter Forty - The Ram and the Rohirrim

"You are soldiers of Gondor!" Gandalf shouted into the darkness. Novarwen left Menegond's side ("Go find a good place for yourself," he had whispered. "The men will take care of me, and since you're an Elf, your skills shouldn't be wasted at the back") and threaded her way through the crowd of Gondorian warriors. Their faces were pale, she noticed, but set. They would defend their city until every one of them lay dead. I only hope I can do as much, Novarwen thought, giving her daggers a last unnecessary wipe. They gleamed in the light from the many torches, and Novarwen held them at the ready, crouching in preparation.

"Whatever comes through that door, you will stand your ground!" Gandalf called.

 

The gates of the city cried out as the Orcs' battering ram drove at them. From outside Novarwen could hear them chanting "Grond! Grond! Grond!" The chant kept time for the crashes of the ram. Every time it hit, the chains on the gates rattled. It became a pattern: "Grond!" Crash! Rattle! "Grond!" Crash! Rattle!

 

And then: "Grond!" And a smash, a resounding crack of wood as the gates finally gave way - and a face unlike anything Novarwen had ever seen before leered at the men of Gondor through the broken gates, a huge boar face, but - "Sweet Valar, the ram's on fire," Novarwen whispered, shaking from head to foot as the hideously grinning ram drew back. Then it crashed again into the gates, and little tongues of flame caught the wooden gates from the fire between the jaws of the battering ram.

 

But Grond had served its purpose. Its second collision tore open the gates, and trolls and Orcs by the thousands were suddenly free to enter the city. The trolls led the charge, roaring and swinging enormous clubs. The Gondorians stood their ground, reaching up to meet the trolls' assault with sword points. Novarwen held with them, her heart thumping - no matter how many times she went into battle, her nerves were always a mess - and rose smoothly from her crouch to impale a troll's lower regions on one of her blades. The creature howled and raised its club to smash her onto the stone floor - she ducked the swing and came up to thrust her second dagger into its chest. The addition of the second dagger, jabbed repeatedly into the wound made by the first blade, and slashes the troll suffered from Gondorians with recently killed enemies, brought the troll down. It crashed down at Novarwen's feet, just after she had pulled her daggers free.

 

Once the trolls were mostly lying in a fleshy heap at the gate, it was Orcs. No Uruk-hai, Novarwen noticed, which made her give a short sigh of relief. Orcs were much easier to fight, and far simpler to kill. Once more she lost herself in the bloody rhythm of battle, in the slashes, the slittings, the cuts and the black blood that surrounded her. No thinking was involved - it was all pure reflex, muscle memory that told her to block here and stab there. The Orcs kept coming. They were a ceaseless tide, a flowing dark mass that surged into the city despite her efforts and those of the Gondorians to hold them back. In the back of her mind, Novarwen realized that she was growing weary. Her arms were starting to ache, her legs to quiver - she was starting to think again, to come out of the madness of battle she depended on to protect her.

 

"Retreat!" she heard Gandalf cry. "Retreat to the second level!" About time, she thought. The Orcs are everywhere.

 

A shrill scream echoed through the night. The Orcs must have reached the houses, Novarwen thought, a sudden sickness gripping her stomach. There could be no hope for the helpless Gondorian women and children who didn't flee from the first level fast enough. The best that could happen to them was a quick, clean death - and she didn't think the Orcs were likely to give that to anyone tonight. "Run!" she bellowed at the top of her voice. "Make for the second level!" She repeated herself as, moving with the mass of Gondorians, she followed her own advice, hoping that the citizens of Minas Tirith could hear her. The hard shoes of the Orcs clattered down the streets behind her - she increased her pace, running on shaky legs for the stairs to the second level and momentary safety.

 

She reached the stairs and pounded up them, pushing against the Gondorians, bulky and slower than usual in their armor. Run! she urged them silently. Still they did not go fast enough for her - their armor made them run more slowly. Desperate - she could hear the Orcs behind them drawing closer - Novarwen snatched for her vision, throwing herself open to it as Galadriel had taught her. Show me these men! she commanded it. Show me their feelings, their thoughts. Show me now!

 

It took a moment for her power to accustom itself to such a sudden joining and order, but then Novarwen was besieged with feelings of raw panic, of mortal wounds, of doom approaching. And for the first time she reached out and touched those feelings through her vision, exerting her will on the soldiers. Don't think of those things, she thought clearly, projecting her silent voice hopefully into the minds of all those she could reach. All you must think of now is running. Run as fast as you can, for there is no other way to survive. The Orcs are so close to us now! You must run! Run, run, brave soldiers, or there will be no dawn to behold for any of us! Run!

 

She thrust herself roughly out of contact with her vision - the assault of feelings had been too much to receive for too long. Novarwen pushed along, wondering if her experiment had worked - the men didn't seem to be moving much faster.

 

Then there seemed to be a shift among the soldiers around her. Their pace increased, and Novarwen gasped in relief. She matched her own pace to theirs as they raced up to the second level. Bright Gondorian armor glinted in the torchlight as the men streamed through the gate like an unstoppable river. The last ones through slammed the gate and shoved down the bar, with the Orcs only a few feet away.

 

Novarwen sagged against a wall, drained of energy for the moment both because of her use of her vision and the anxiety that had accompanied her experiment. I can influence the things I see, she thought dully. If I try hard enough, I can change things that come to me in my visions. At the moment, though, the information did nothing to help her recover her strength, and that was all she cared about.

 

A resounding boom at the gate woke her. Novarwen jumped and looked around for Gandalf - he should be told that the Orcs were trying to hammer down the gate. Her heart slid into her boots as she realized that there was no telltale flash of white robes to alert her to Gandalf's presence. She grabbed a passing soldier. "Mithrandir!" she demanded urgently. "Where is he? Where did he go?"

 

"Mithrandir's gone?" the soldier gasped. He goggled at her for a moment - then his eyes raked the crowd of soldiers and his face went white under its coating of sweat and blood. Oh, wonderful. I've gone and started a panic, Novarwen thought sarcastically, feeling as though she could happily hit her head against the walls of the city and not feel bad.

 

Mercifully the soldier showed exceptional control. After his moment of panic, he drew a deep breath and turned away from her. He didn't start shouting the bad news to his comrades, and Novarwen breathed again. He was sensible enough to keep the news to himself, and she thanked the Valar for that.

 

***

 

The night was one of the darkest he'd ever seen. Theryn leaned low on his horse's neck, squinting to see through the blackness surrounding him. It was lucky that there was an army riding around him - otherwise he would have gotten utterly lost. He patted his horse's neck, but absently - his attention was focused on staying with the Rohirrim.

 

I need something to think of, he told himself. Something other than "we're all going to die tomorrow morning when we get to Minas Tirith." The first thought that came into his mind was of Novarwen. Theryn could not fool himself into thinking that Gondor's main city was not yet under attack, and Novarwen was undoubtedly in the thick of that battle. He imagined her on the high walls shooting arrow after arrow into the Orcs below - and then reminded himself that night was not a good time for arrows.

 

Daggers, then, he thought. Theryn could picture her perfectly, had seen her fight flawlessly with her two deadly blades - it was almost like watching a dance to watch her fight.

 

Wasn't that why we had our argument? he thought distantly. Because I thought she was too much of a warrior, and not enough of a person? The thought of their bitter fight in Edoras made pangs of regret strike Theryn deeply, and he swallowed down anger at himself. Of course she was a warrior. That was part of her, part of her being, her very self. It was just that before he was exiled, his memories of her were far less warrior-like and far gentler than she seemed now.

 

Was that what she could fall back on, after I left? Theryn wondered. It could provide her with a mask, a duty, a way to be out of the public eye so she could cry in private... And now she's so used to falling back on the protection that being a fighter gives her that she's not used to letting it drop.

 

When I see her again, he promised ruefully, I am going to fall on my knees and beg her to forgive me for being an ass.

 

If I see her again.

 

The thought came unbidden and unwelcome, and Theryn ordered it forcefully out of his mind - but the more he tried to make it leave, the more it hovered around the inside of his head, laughing at him from every angle. If you see her again. If you see her again. If if if if if...

 

If was a terrible word. Theryn hated it on the spot, hated it with a passion. He wished he could find all the ifs in the world and beat them out of existence. A word that could bring such fear, such uncertainty, had no place in the world he wanted and knew. But it will have a place here if Sauron wins... If he wins... If if if...

 

If, he thought, his mouth set in a grim line. If we win, there will be no more ifs. If we win, everything will be as clear as the daylight that I wish would come. If we win.

 

Theryn wished he could say "When we win," but he knew all too clearly the unlikelihood of that happening.

 

***

 

Daybreak. The sun was rising over the top of the city. The Orcs had beaten through more levels. Novarwen's sleep-deprived, weary, blood-soaked mind had no idea what level they were on now, and she wasn't sure she wanted to know. If they were backed up to the seventh level, then there was not even the faintest chance of hope left for their survival.

 

Sometime during the fight, Gandalf and Pippin had returned. They had said little, but both looked grim. Novarwen had only been up to a minimal pressing for the events that had taken them away from the battle, and all she had been able to extract was that Denethor was dead. She supposed it would have come as a shock at any other time, but she was too battered and weary to care much for any life except her own.

 

Another bang at the gate sounded the approach of the Orcs, surging again to take this level. Novarwen had not seen Menegond since they fled the first level. She had not expected to, but she grieved for him. She hoped that his wife, Rieth, had been one of the ones who had escaped to the second level before the Orcs came, and that she had not seen her husband's body. Dully, she wondered if she could even find Rieth, or if in the capture of more levels, Rieth had been caught and killed. She half-hoped it was so - then the two would be together in the endless procession of dead Men. There have been many who will join the ranks of the dead this night, Novarwen thought.

 

Her arms trembled with exhaustion, so much that she could barely lift her daggers. "Gandalf," she muttered, and sank to her knees next to him. "I won't make it if they break through again. I can't - I can't even lift my daggers."

 

He put a hand on her head, and she collapsed against his side, her eyes glazing over in sleep instantly. Pippin looked quickly at Gandalf, concerned, but the wizard placed a finger to his lips and the hobbit said nothing. "She needs rest," Gandalf whispered over Novarwen's head. "They all do." He sighed heavily and stared out at the plain. "We need Théoden," Gandalf admitted. He rubbed his face with one hand. "Why has he not come?" he muttered, more to himself than to Pippin, who wisely said nothing.

 

The sky was turning to a reddish gold when a low, clear horn blast sounded across the Pelennor. It startled Novarwen from her sleep - she bolted upright and scrambled to her feet, staring out at the horizon. Gandalf and Pippin joined her, their eyes widening and their bodies sagging in relief.

 

Amassing on the far edge of the field were the ranks of the Rohirrim. Doomed, courageous, and unutterably tragic, they sat motionless on horseback as the Orcs on the field slowly turned to face them. Squinting her tired eyes, Novarwen could make out a tiny figure on horseback, his embossed shield glittering in the new dawn - Théoden. "They came, Gandalf," Novarwen whispered, twisting her fingers together as the painful sensation on impossible hope swamped her and swept her up in its tide. "They came."

 

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